Three Weddings and No Funeral

Originally published August 2011.

Yes, I know , the movie staring Hugh Grant was actually FOUR Weddings and a Funeral. But this isn’t about Hugh Grant, even though he is cute and has a lovely accent and is fun to watch in the movies. My life has not been quite so comedic although I did plan three weddings.

Today I woke up unsettled as I kept feeling like today was supposed to have some meaning to me. Like it was important somehow.  I checked my  calendar. Nothing written down. No birthday or anniversary or anything even really scheduled.  As I sat spending time in God’s Word and praying and journaling and reading some other great authors on faith – it hit me.

Today is the day I had originally scheduled my first wedding.  I felt grief and sorrow hit me in the gut. See, I ended up marrying that man a few years later after much heartache. I look back on that young 19-year-old girl and see now that the patterns for abuse that I experience today –were already germinating back then. They were even set in place long before I met this man I would eventually marry. I despise how desperately needy I was for love that I didn’t see it and felt I didn’t deserve any better.

And I despise the fact that the enemy keeps telling me those lies even now.

The engagement took place on Valentine’s Day, and the wedding planned for August. Why wait? Except that the big surprise was that my fiancé, the one who surprisingly proposed to me, ended up calling it off.  I was heartbroken. He of course blamed me, saying I was forcing him to marry me. Really? I don’t remember holding a gun to his head to propose. But my undervaluing of my personhood by my biological family only affirmed that yes, I was not worthy to marry this man (or any man for that matter – who would ever want me?). I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough and obviously, according to this man,  I was too controlling.

Hindsight makes me want to weep at how wrong my fragile young heart was.

We did get engaged again, and I called off that one on the day of the wedding.  We eventually did marry a few years later after much more abuse I was too ashamed to admit to because after all, I was a Christian. I was so used to taking the blame for the negative things that happened to me. I felt the weight of someone else’s sin as if it were my own and shame prevented me from speaking about it.

So I planned three weddings,  went through with one, all to the same man. I’ve stayed married to him through better and worse. Mostly worse. I keep seeking God’s wisdom and truth about who I am in the midst of my challenging circumstances.  And I pray for rescue.

See, I believe if God wants me out of my marriage He can do it. I don’t pray for my husband’s death, but I have thought about what life would be like when that happens.  Practical things like liquidating his business and frivolous things like finally buying the bed that would be best for MY back.  God could also bring my husband to divorce me, and I would consider him as an unbeliever and let him go.  God could also decide to change things in my marriage as well.

So far there’s been no funeral.

Does that mean I should never consider legal separation? I don’t have biblical grounds (in the truest sense) to justify divorce. My husband, I believe, is mentally ill. I married for “in sickness and in health.” He won’t get treatment and is blind to his foolish ways and won’t seek wise counsel. I pray for God’s leading and guiding.

It is hard not to long for escape.  Today I grieve a young woman who did the best she could in her circumstances 26 years ago.  I weep for her vulnerable heart and I grieve for the loss of many dreams – primarily of being loved and cherished by my husband.  I have to believe my “happily ever after” ultimately is with Jesus and my lack in this life and marriage forces me to depend on Him in a deeper way than I probably would have otherwise.

Do I sound foolish to you? Many would say “Leave” but it really is not so easy. However I am praying a different prayer now. Not just one of “rescue” or for a job or some other way to survive. I’m praying that for the sake of the glory of God and His name and power shown through my life, that He will break the bonds of control that are currently holding me captive. Not just that I would endure them with grace, or that I would try to break them on my own (realistically, it would not happen even with a divorce or separation, no matter what a lawyer might tell me).  My heart has to listen to my God and that can be a difficult voice to hear amongst the negativity, grief and old message tapes that tell me I am unworthy of the love and devotion of a godly man.

In reality I have the love and devotion of a godly man already. His name is Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, if I were not struggling in the way that I am, I would not be as driven to seek my value, worth and love from my Creator King who also says:

“For your husband is your Maker. His name is Yaweh of Hosts – and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer. He is called the God of all the earth. For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like wife of youth when she is cast off.”  (Isaiah 54:5-6)

I am loved and cherished and worthy of that from the One who made me and will use me for His glory, in spite of my pain and suffering. If God can be glorified in me today, then I will be grateful that I was found usable by Him.  I may not see the impact. I have to trust the outcome to Him and cling to my Husband and trust Him for everything else. He’s my God. He can do it.

Pigs and Pearls

From July 2011.

Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6  HCSB)

I love this verse. It has been a reminder to me for many years that I need to be careful with whom I share the things in my life that are important. Let me give you an example. I used to go visit my family. I served in ministry, on staff of a small church plant. I was married, and was going to an Evangelical graduate school.  I was content with the work God had given me to do. But my family didn’t believe in a life lived in whole-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ. When I would go home on holidays to share my joys I was met with criticism and rejection.  I should divorce my husband (they didn’t like him, and they had some good reasons for that). I should get a ‘real” job. I should lose weight. If there were anything they could find fault with in my life, they did.

Eventually a younger, fellow counseling student that I was meeting with, brought me to this verse. I needed to stop casting my pearls before people who would only trample them. We saw God move in our church in amazing ways. It was a time of significant personal and spiritual growth for me. My family however would never be able to appreciate or celebrate those things because they were “holy treasures” to me. My “pearls.”  My husband would laugh as I would go home to visit family (an hour drive) and repeat to myself: “My family are pigs. My parents are swine.”

Not very Christian, huh? I laugh now, but I was dead serious then. See, I really desired and needed their approval and acceptance as it has always been withheld. It became clear that living the life that God had called me to would never give me that kind of love and acceptance with my family. I could “want” it  but not “need” it. Easier said than lived out. So I had to learn that when I went home, I did not share my heart or my dreams or my life with my family. I listened and asked questions.  Over the years of doing this I have felt more and more like a foreigner visiting a land where I do not know the language. I do not feel a part of my family because they cannot accept or approve of my choices in life.  Persevere in a difficult marriage?  Unheard of –just get a divorce.  Stay at home with children or even home school them (which I did for a few years). I should be using my Master’s degree!

Today I revisited this verse when I spent time meditating on God’s Word and I realized that the context of this verse puts a little bit of a different spin on its meaning.  Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount and cautions about judging others without first looking at the sin in our own life. Right after that comes this verse. I sat there thinking about it, perplexed, because I struggled to figure out the connection based on the way I had been applying it in my life.  Finally I grabbed “The Bible Knowledge Commentary” off my bookshelf and looked it up and on page 33 it says this:

“. . . when seeking to help another, one must exercise care to do what would be appreciated and beneficial. One should never entrust holy things (what is sacred) to unholy people or throw pearls to pigs. Dogs and pigs were despised in those days.” (Walvoord, J.F & Zuck R.B, Victor Books, Wheaton Il 1983).

Now at first glance that appears to fit my application. But I’ve been reading a chapter of Proverbs almost every day for the past seven months and there is a recurring theme regarding the wise and foolish (unholy) people of this world.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and correction.” (Prov. 1:7)

“The one who corrects a mocker will bring dishonor on himself.” (Prov. 9:7)

“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid.” (Prov 12:1)

Don’t speak to a fool, for he will despise the insight of your words.” (Prov. 23:9)

A wise correction to a receptive ear is like a gold ring or an ornament of gold.” (Prov. 25:12)

I’m not saying that my previous application of this verse was wrong. I think that this broadens the application. Not only do we need to be careful who we share our life, our hopes, dreams and challenges with as we follow Jesus, because we do need the encouragement of support of the body of Christ. In addition to that, however, we need to be careful when we are called to give feedback or try to challenge someone, even a “supposed” Christian.

First, we need to follow Jesus’ words and make sure our own hearts are pure and that we are not doing the very same things (or worse) that we are about to confront someone about. Secondly, if we know that person well, we need to assess if they might even be receptive to hearing our heart of concern for them and their walk with God.  Are they a wise person or a fool?  Sometimes we don’t know until we have to try to confront, and tell the truth in love.

Let me give two examples.  First a negative one.  I had someone slander me in ministry. I prayed, I confessed, I sought insight from an accountability partner as to whether the very sin I was aware of in this other person might be something I myself was engaging in.  God showed me an area where I had seriously erred in the relationship.  So I met with this woman and began by confessing my own sin and apologizing for the words I had spoken in haste.  She was receptive to that. But when I turned and pointed to the slander that she had committed to writing to another person about me, she laughed in my face.  I was sad because I had liked this woman and had hoped to have her serving in our ministry.  After that conversation however, I left knowing that “fool” or “unsafe” were better applied to her and that I could never entrust leadership to a woman who would so callously abuse my reputation with lies and willingly confessed to doing it to many others.  The funny thing was, she claimed she wanted to support me in ministry and was blind to the fact that this in essence undermined my efforts to serve and lead. My pearls were trampled.

A more positive example. A week ago a woman from my small group called me up on the phone. She was so apologetic and said that she wondered if I had been hurt by her in some way and if there was something she needed to repent of because she had felt that on Sunday mornings I had been distant and not “warm” in my interactions with her.  I sat there stunned. She had not done anything wrong. I apologized profusely for any unintentional hurt I might have caused and applauded her courage and her sweet spirit in the way she confronted me. She didn’t even mean to confront me! She thought it was her fault. Talk about a humble, gentle and sweet spirit.  We had a wonderful conversation for over an hour and our relationship grew because she was wise in how and who she shared her issue with.  I’m not perfect. I could have taken offense and trampled her feelings (like the previous woman had done to me).  But I treasured the holy pearls that this woman brought before me and in the end, they got a little more polished from the interaction. More beautiful.

So who do you know that you can share your pearls with and who are the pigs and dogs in your life?  Sometimes it’s good to know these things  before troubles and conflict emerge. Not that we never confront a fool, but in doing so we go in knowing that we may be a bit bruised for the effort and trust God work in their hearts.  Jesus gives us permission to be careful with who we judge and how we do it. He gives us guidance, because we do need to judge at times. But first let us be found worthy of treasuring the pearls of others instead of acting like pigs ourselves.

Dirty Underwear

First posted March 2011.

During my quiet time a few months back, I was reading through a chapter of an Old Testament book as well other portions of Scripture and found myself in Jeremiah which I hadn’t read in a long time. I found it interesting and encouraging. Especially when I got to Jeremiah 13. Then I laughed a bit before I sobered up and really dug into the truth of what God was saying to me.

Let me paraphrase some of what happens at the beginning of this chapter. God tells Jeremiah to go buy a linen loincloth (underwear), wear it and not get it wet. Then he had to take it off and bury it near a river.  Later, Jeremiah was instructed to go dig it up.

This is what Jeremiah wrote:  “Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.”  (Jer 13:7 ESV)

God then said to Jeremiah, “This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.”  (Jer 13:10 ESV)

I was amazed at how creative our God is in describing sin. Any parent knows first-hand the joys of “dirty underwear” or diapers. And God describes sin with that imagery (timeless truth!). When God looks at those of us who refuse to listen and obey His word, worship other things with our time and money, well, our pride is like dirty underwear to God.

Sin is like dirty underwear. Ewwwww!

I don’t want to be like dirty underwear before the Most High God! I wouldn even want anyone to suspect I might have dirty underwear that’s hidden. But this underwear that God is talking about is soiled beyond belief. There is no hiding the sin in our hearts before Him. It stinks. It reeks. It’s a colorful and yet repulsive image. I don’t like the idea of myself in my sin being on par with that kind of image. I don’t want to wear dirty underwear – physically or spiritually!

How about you?

For personal hygiene, I change my underwear every day. How much more do I need to take off the soiled underwear of my heart (confession of my sin) and exchange it at the cross for a fresh heart, forgiven and ready to move forward into a day, clean and pure in Christ.

Yes, my heart (underwear) will get dirty again. Hence the importance of daily confessing my sin to God and repenting before Him. I’m not good at this and yet here is where there is freedom and power. Jesus does the laundry, I just need to drop it in His laundry basket.

So as I continue to challenge myself in changing my “underwear” I hope you will do the same. God is ready to cleanse and wash us free of our sins and give us a fresh start every day!

Husbands and Church

From March 2011.

A friend was expressing frustration to me the other day about her husband who was not attending church. She said, “Every time he doesn’t come – that’s when he really needed to hear the message!”

I nodded my head. I understand. Totally. Then I said “Let me challenge you. Come to church and ask God to have the message be for YOU to learn and hear. Let Him deal with your husband.”

When all we do as women, is focus on the deficiencies in our men, then we have now made them our idol. Now often we think of an idol as something we worship and adore. But really, it is anything that predominates our attention and keeps us from focusing on God. That could be reading books, or watching sports or television shows or spending our time in certain activities. Even focusing solely on our fears, can make them our idol when they take our eye off the Most High God who is the only One who deserves our worship and attention. Anything that steals our focus from a life that is designed to be lived in service and worship to our King, Lord Jesus, can become an idol.

Even difficult husbands can become our idols.

So what do we do? How do we get out of that kind of obsession with our husband’s deficiencies? Basically, there are two parts to resolving this:

  1. Pray for your husband. Pray that God will do the work that needs to be done, and leave your husband to God to fix.
  2. Seek God with your whole heart. Not so that your husband can be changed, but so YOU can be changed. Let God meet you in your loneliness. Let Him take your hurt, and anger and resentment. Let God grow you in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ as you pursue holiness and a life devoted to Him.

That sounds simpler than it is. We are complex beings. Hormones and emotions can make it difficult. Living with someone day in and day out who doesn’t treat us as he ought (according to Scripture), is frustrating to say the least.

No one said it would be easy. Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s about reflecting God to a hurting world. Even in a marriage that is falling apart, if you choose to honor God with all that you are, you will bring honor and glory to Him, and find that your witness to the hurting and watching world around you will be even stronger because you are different, because you are faithful under adversity.

I usually attend church alone. I have to accept my husband’s choices even if I disagree with them. Those who know me best do not judge me for being solo. I do not have to carry shame when I go because I am not there to be seen and approved of, I am there to worship the King, and to serve Him. For those of you feel embarrassment over your singleness at church, please don’t. I understand firsthand the shame (which comes from our enemy) but give that to God and know that you have infinite value and worth in His eyes just for being who you are as His child.

I challenge you to chew on these things and seek God first and let Him be the husband to you that your own flesh and blood man cannot. Don’t do it to get the husband you want, do it to be the woman of God He has called you to be, and trust Him with the rest.

And in the meantime, we can pray and encourage each other on the way.

Redemption Before Healing

From March 2011

The other day, I was able to encourage a young mom whose marriage is on the verge of divorce. It is amazing how many similarities her life challenges are to my own. She’s got some tough choices ahead, and if she chooses to stay that will be challening, but it can be done and done in a way that helps her grow in her faith and as a woman and a mom.

Last week I got a chance to encourage a woman with some health issues who just wants to be healthy. Since I’ve had a little journey with natural medicine and little money, I was able to point her in the direction of some inexpensive things to try to help improver her general health before she even steps into a doctor’s office. I’m not a doctor. I’m just someone who’s got an autoimmune disease who is on a journey. . . but she felt that in some ways, that was better because I wasn’t trying to sell her anything (I don’t sell supplements or get commissions on anything I told her about).

On a recent Sunday after church, I was able to sit and listen and then pray for another woman struggling in her marriage with a spouse who is not coming to church or walking with the Lord.

Redeeming pain, God encourages others through us.

I’m not telling you this to brag about how great I am because I can help people. I’m only sharing to say this: Sometimes, even when we are in the midst of our own struggles, God can use that experience to help people just starting on that path. If we are leaning on God, and can offer hope and encouragement in the darkness and confusion of this world, God is redeeming our pain, while we are still in it, for HIS glory.

I can’t make promises to woman that their lives will be dramatically improved and they will have all their heart’s desire for their marriages or health. I cannot promise that life will get easier. I can only be honest and say that I still struggle but I’m still here, plugging along on the path God has me on, and trying to be faithful to Him with each step I take. I can also give a hug. Sometimes we need “Jesus with skin on.”

Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I need others around me to lift me up in prayer as I struggle with the challenges and my courage fails. Sometimes I need someone to remind me, once again, that God is GOOD. That He will be good to me, and that He is forever faithful to His children. Sometimes when I am called upon to share those truths with someone else who is hurting – I am also speaking to myself.

What a relief that I do not have to “arrive” to be usable by God. That bruised and broken at times by circumstances and stresses of life, God can still be seen in me, and can still use me to help others along the path. It reminds me that none of us are there yet and God designed the body of Christ to help us support each other in the battles of the world and against the enemy our soul. What a sweet privilege. My heart grieves for those that hurt like I do, but I take comfort that I am not alone in my challenges and that somehow God uses it all to further His kingdom.

How about you? In what ways have you seen God using you recently in your areas of struggle – to minister to someone else? If you haven’t seen that happen, pray and ask Him to show you those opportunities. There is great joy in being used by Him to help another struggling soul as we walk this road called “life.”

Out of Control

This was originally posted elsewhere January 2011.

I want some control in my life. The feeling that maybe, somehow, I have choices and can make a difference in the outcome of whatever circumstances I find myself in.

But so often the control I have is superficial. I can choose what outfit to wear and even what I’m going to eat and whether or not I will “cheat” on my diet. (I don’t).

I cannot chose how another person will respond to me. I cannot force someone to call me.  I cannot make anyone care about my struggles. What value would that have anyway?

I am doing a diet where weight-loss is all but guaranteed. I’ve done it before and know that the weight will stay off. I consider it kind of like permanent liposuction, without the surgery. However, for some reason, my body does not let go of its fat easily. I follow the protocol to the letter and have days where the scale doesn’t move. I know I am losing inches. Things are happening that I cannot see. However much I try to control my diet, my body has its own methods that go totally beyond my ability to control.

I cannot stop breathing. I am unable to NOT think of something. Try it. Do not think of ice cream.  Hmm, bet an image just popped into your head!

In reality, not much in this world is in my control. On a slick road, I can drive carefully and still might end up in an accident or in the ditch due to no fault of my own. Every breath I take is determined by God—not me. Even whether I am able to really sleep tonight, is beyond my ultimate control.  I’ve even been awake with meds designed to aid sleep!

I hate the feeling of helplessness that comes with not having control. That is, until I relax and realize that another more positive word for that is surrender, or dependence. That would be scary if I didn’t know WHO I was surrendered to or dependant upon. I put my faith in Jesus Christ. He put the stars in the sky. He calms the oceans. He knows how many fat cells are dying day by day in my body. He gives me my next breath, and my ability to think, communicate, and blog!

So maybe not always being in control is an okay thing, when I relax into the arms of the One who has my sometimes seemingly out-of-control life, in His perfectly capable and wise hands.

How about you? Can you relax with the areas you cannot control and trust Jesus to be with you there?

Dream Bigger

This is a repost from another blog, November 2010

I often ask God for things that I want or think I need. New house, new husband (hahaha!), healed son, health, financial security. The list could go on. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly stressed my prayers simply become requests for help or rescue.

But for twenty years rescue hasn’t come.

What if my dreams and prayers are too small? Maybe a house, which could burn down, would not ultimately satisfy me. Or if my husband were Brad Pitt or better yet Gilles Marini! Still, he may not satisfy (looks ain’t everything, gals!).

Dream Bigger. Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs, CO

What if my kids were perfect angels, obeying everything, picked up after themselves and helped around the house? Okay, wait. I cannot find anything wrong with that!

I struggle with this verse in Scripture:

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Mat 21:22 ESV)

Whatever? Really? But when? So I can ask for riches – and for my debts to be cleared away. Anything goes right? Does that mean that I can sin with abandon and ask God to clean up after me so I don’t have to face the consequences? See what I mean? It seems like there might be a limit to “whatever” even though even in the Greek it seems to mean exactly what it says. Oh, how easy to believe a false prosperity gospel based on that one verse!

Maybe the clincher is “if you have faith.” Maybe part of me doubts God’s willingness to rescue me in my difficult circumstances. That would be a sin of unbelief. Maybe my faith is misplaced in asking for things that are not in line with what God desires for me? That is probably the key. Faith means believing in what we don’t see. That God has some greater purpose and plan beyond my ability to know or understand. Even Abraham did not see the Promised Land and his descendants as innumerable as the sands on the shore or the stars in the sky. God promised and did it – but Abraham never saw it while he walked on this earth.

So maybe I simply don’t dream big enough. A house will burn or decay. My health doesn’t matter once I’m dead (and we all achieve that end at some point). Consider the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 which ends thus:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. “ (Heb 11:39-40 ESV)

So we get whatever we ask – when we ask in faith – but even those who did, didn’t see the fulfillment of what God had promised. They got something better!

Maybe I need to pray bigger prayers. Maybe prayers that my children will overcome the generations of sin and spiritual bondage that have held our families back from impacting the world for the glory of God. Prayers that the work I do today, even in writing a blog, or a book, will in the long run, impact women, save marriages and strengthen the church in ways I might never see or fully understand. Maybe even one life will come to know Jesus in a real, powerful, life changing way and embrace Him as not only their Savior, but Lord, and in bending their knee and wholeheartedly following Him, they will have a great impact on people I will never meet this side of heaven.

Maybe instead of temporal things I need to dream of a bigger legacy of a way that God, right now, today, would reach down and through this blog and other words I might speak, or hugs I might give, extend His message of grace to a hurting world.

My circumstances might stink. Sometimes I truly do want to quit the fight. But then I think of things like this and feel emboldened to stretch a little further. To take just one more step today in faith, knowing that in heaven, I will see the fruit of my labor and rejoice because I will have received the commendation of God. That joy will far outweigh my sorrows here. Some days I need to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Toxic

This post was first published elsewhere November 2010.

I was told a few years back, by a very well meaning Christian psychotherapist, that I should leave my husband because the environment was “toxic.”

I didn’t leave my husband but I did stop seeing that man. It’s not always wise to seek divorce as your first “go to” option.

I was thinking about this lately as it seems that there keeps coming up in the news things that have ‘unacceptable” levels of toxicity. Like baby food. Or lead in toys. Nothing in this world is pure as much as we would love to have it be so.

In essence, everything is toxic, simply because of sin.  I’m toxic.  I sin.

Our home has mold which makes me sick. It’s toxic. However we don’t have the money to move right now (short of burning it down there’s not much you can do about the mold inside the walls).  We did bring in an air filter which has significantly helped with my health issues that the mold was causing. Is the house still toxic? Yes, but we have minimized the effects.

Our food is toxic, and we’ve tried to go to more organic stuff, but again finances have made that difficult.  We can however avoid things that are more ‘top of the list” as we understand them: aspartame is particularly nasty and I had to do a detox for that as it was hobbling my memory. For different people, there are different things.

So my husband’s behavior and attitudes are toxic. The same can at times be said of my special needs son. I can’t avoid them and short of putting duct tape over their mouths (probably some legal issues with that), there isn’t always much I can do to avoid being contaminated. But maybe that is not totally true.  I can immerse myself in God’s word. He says He will be a shield:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psa 18:2  HCSB)

I think that there are always levels of ‘toxicity’ we will face in this sinful world. Whether it is in food, mold, or maybe even the words or actions of others around us that are not easily avoided.  Only you can truly know what pushes that toxicity to a deadly level for you. However, in the meantime, take the antidote, the detox, the preventative; immerse yourself in God’s truth and in His church. And trust God to be your shield.

Blessings to you.

The Iridescence of Pain

This was originally posted on another blog October 2010

I was thinking about pearls today.  Did you know that a natural pearl starts from a microscopic irritation or parasite that invades a mollusk?  Yup. The offending item gets surrounded as a way to protect the clam and as layer after layer forms to isolate the irritation, something beautiful and precious emerges.

pearls show God's way of using pain to make something beautiful

In James 1, after some talk about the benefit of persevering under trials (and counting as joy?), a few verses later says this:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jas 1:17 HCSB)

Trials and irritations in our life can either destroy us; resulting in bitterness, anger, wrath and other not so nice attributes, or they can create in us character that shines for the glory of God.  Peace, joy, faithfulness. . . a gift.

A pearl starts with a minor irritation.  Maybe you have a major one in your life; a spouse that’s challenging, or a kid that has special needs, or a chronic health issue or pain. It’s up to you to decide whether you will take the irritant that you cannot expel (clams are unable to simply kick the irritant out of their shell), and let it fester or allow it to grow wonderful things in your heart.

Godly character cannot be manufactured.  Pearls can be grown and ‘cultured” – but they do not compare in the quality and priceless value of one that begins wild, organic, in the ocean starting with an irritant.  We can fake it if we want, but when compared to true character, we will pale in comparison to someone who has allowed trials to mold and polish them in the image of Christ.

I want to shine. I want to shimmer and reflect God’s goodness and love to me that covers all those yucky irritations in my life. Heck, I should have a glorious string of pearls at this point in my life!  Maybe they will be part of the crown Jesus gives me when I meet Him in the heavenlies!

I’m praying that today you recognize the beauty that comes as you persevere through trials so you can have an incomparable iridescence as the priceless treasure that you are to our King! Blessings!

Pressure Cooker

This is a repost from another blog in October of 2010.

I don’t have a pressure cooker.  But I’ve seen and heard about them.  You know, those large pans where you lock on a lid and then set things to boiling and the steam cannot come out until it reaches a certain pressure.  The benefits of a pressure cooker are that foods can cook much faster as the heat is distributed, “very evenly, quickly and deeply.” (Wikipedia).

Pressure cookers also have a “safety valve” in case the pressure gets too high and the gauge isn’t working. This keeps the entire thing from exploding! Kabooom!  Not what you really want to happen in your kitchen when the temperature is that hot.  It’s also not a pretty thing to happen to us emotionally either – spewing our negativity to all around us is definitely ugly.

Well, sometimes life can feel like this, can’t it?  When the pressure builds up and we can’t go anywhere with it.  When someone wrongly accuses you but won’t listen to your explanation or taken responsibility for their own sin.  Pressure builds.  When disappointments pile up, seemingly small, one after another.  Pressure builds.  When attacks come against you that are unexpected and you can’t fight because the perpetrator is unknown.  Pressure builds. When then bills keep piling up and the checking account is empty. Pressure builds.  When the kids keep whining and fighting and making demands and you get no break and your sleep deprived.  Pressure.

So, where’s your safety valve?  I’m feeling pressure in some of those areas. Through the haze of the steam it makes it harder to see things as they really are.  Sometimes I want to curse myself for being so vulnerable to pressure.  It makes me feel so emotionally fragile at times.  Sometimes being “human” is just not fun. Is anyone tracking with me here?

I’m not saying I have this figured out. I don’t.  My only comfort is in reminding myself that God is maybe “cooking” me through the circumstances of life so that I WILL be more tender and sensitive to the hurts of those around me.  Can I submit to the pressure knowing that there’s a higher purpose to it all?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)

That’s all well and good, but still – what is my safety valve?  What’s yours?  Prayer.  Praising God with music.  Maybe coffee with a friend.  Oh, a massage would help (if the checking account thing weren’t the issue), a phone call to someone who understands, journaling, maybe just a good long walk to expend some of the pent up adrenaline that occurs physically when there are emotional challenges?  A good, from the diaphragm, scream?

How do you decompress?  Seriously – any ideas would be welcome because sometimes we share things that can help others.

Here’s a song by Billy Joel that kind of exemplifies the challenge.  Joel says “Here you are with your faith and your Peter Pan advice. . . and you cannot handle pressure.”  Yes, Billy, there is a cosmic plan and while pressure will come, there’s nothing magical about the fact that we all have to deal with it.  While I may not always understand God’s rationale for my pain and struggles, I can trust him and I am not alone.  In this we have a hope that Mr. Joel has missed.  Let’s not make his same mistake.